The Merced College football team entered practice this week with a positive vibe.
It might be the first time since the week before MC's season-opener with Monterey Peninsula that that's been the case.
The Blue Devils (0-1 Golden Gate Conference, 0-6 overall) still left Hayward with a 28-18 loss to Chabot a week ago, but for the first time all season they forced a team to earn the victory.
In fact, all the numbers suggest MC should have walked away with the win.
The Blue Devils ran 85 plays to Chabot's 67. They gained 23 more yards and had more than a 10-minute edge in time of possession.
"Sometimes when I'm up in the box, it's tough to get a feel for the mood on the sideline," MC offensive coordinator Bob Casey said.
"But the feeling I got after the last game was that the guys really saw what the coaches have known all season.
"We let a win get away from us, but it was our game to win.
"That feeling has carried over into practice this week."
The Chabot game was MC's best offensive showing this season, at least in terms of yards.
Quarterback Ryan Williston threw for 292 yards and two scores, running back Darius Roland (112 yards) became the Blue Devils' first 100-yard rusher of the season, and wideout Marquese McIntyre (148 yards) racked up 100-plus receiving yards for just the second time this season.
"We put up 364 yards against a pretty good defense, and it easily could have been 500," MC coach Tony Lewis said. "Marquese (McIntyre) had a great game, but he dropped a couple balls that would have been big plays.
"We missed some open receivers. We could have done a lot more."
Casey's offense seems poised to break out of a season-long slump just in time for an obliging Cabrillo squad (0-1 GGC, 2-4 overall and 27.6 points per game surrendered) to pay them a visit.
Kickoff is set for 6 p.m.
"The key, obviously, is for us to eliminate the turnovers," Casey said. "We had one drive end on a fumble and another on an interception where the linebacker just made a really great play.
"We're not really a big-play offense. We're content to move the chains and hold onto the ball.
"We know the things that are going to make us successful and I think we can execute them."
Just as importantly, the Blue Devil offense enters tonight's contest feeling confident for the first time this season.
"Last week we moved the ball maybe 40 yards at a time and were only stopped because we shot ourselves in the foot," Williston said.
"To have every single play matter -- from start to finish -- was huge for us.
"Our first five games, the fourth quarter was basically used as practice.
"From before the Chabot game to after, it's like we're a completely different team."
Lewis wants that to be the case.
The MC coach doesn't sugarcoat the importance of tonight's game.
"We win this one and we're right back in the thick of the conference standings," Lewis said. "We lose it, and we're pretty much out."
Sean Lynch is a Sun-Star sports writer. He can be reached at 385-2476 or at firstname.lastname@example.org.